Oddsmakers love Chiefs against Cleveland Browns, but why?

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 4: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 4: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns find themselves -10 point underdogs against the defending Super Bowl Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday. One of the narratives is that they are actually even better than 14-2 and that they are just waiting for the playoffs to throw the switch, turn on the voltage, and shock the Browns. Are the Chiefs that good?

First of all, let’s start with some simple math, the Chiefs are 14-2, while the Browns are 12-5. The Chiefs have a higher winning percentage, so on the surface, the Browns deserve to be underdogs. The difference is even more striking when you consider the points scored and calculate the Pythagorean win percentage.

Kansas City averaged 29.6 points per game this season and gave 22.7. That’s an average of seven points. They have home-field plus an advantage when it comes to experience. Does that mean that we should expect the typical Chiefs’ advantage to be magnified against the Browns by an additional three points?

As for the Browns, counting the Pittsburgh game, they gave up 28.5 points and scored 28.5 points on average.

Last week’s narrative was that there was no way the Browns could beat the Steelers in a playoff game when it counted. Big Ben would be all rested up and primed for the kill. This week’s skeptical narrative is that the Browns playoff win was too easy and should not really count. Big Ben is old and decrepit and needs to retire immediately. So if the Chiefs usually beat their opponents by seven points, maybe they should beat the Browns by at least as many.

The Chiefs played only five teams with records above .500, however, they beat all five, including  Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Miami, and New Orleans. Those are all impressive wins, but let’s check the margin of victory in the first column. The other columns contain the score and the season’s won-lost and points, opponents points, win percentage, and Pythagorean win percentage, which is the predicted win percentage based on points and opponent’s points. These numbers are included just to remind everyone how good the teams were that the Chiefs played.

Team             Margin   Score   W-L      Pts    OP      pct  Pythagorean

Baltimore:         14     34-20   11-5    468   303    .688   .737
Tampa Bay          3      27-24   11-5    492   355   .688   .684
Buffalo                 9      26-17   13-3    501   375   .813   .665
Miami                   6      33-27   10-6    404   338   .625   .604
New Orleans      3      32-29    12 4    482   337   .750   .700

The most impressive Kansas City win was a convincing performance against Baltimore, which came early in the season, give them props. Baltimore is actually the top AFC team in terms of Pythagorean win percentage. They also came up big against the Bills, with a nine-point win. But overall the victory margins have not been huge and they are down-trending from that early high of 14 points.

As for the Browns, there were some brutal defeats interspersed with some big-time wins. Let’s recite them.

Team             Margin   Score   W-L      Pts    OP      pct  Pythagorean

Baltimore:           -32       6-38   11-5    468   303  .688   .737
Indianapolis            9     32-23   11-5    451   362  .688   .627
Pittsburgh           -31       7-38   12-4    416   312  .750   .664
Tennnessee             6     41-35   11-5   491   439  .688   .566
Baltimore               -5     42-47   11-5   468   303  .688   .737
Pittsburgh                2     24-22   12-4   416   312  .750   .664
Pittsburgh             11     48-37   12-4   416   312  .750   .664

Here again, you do not have to be a nuclear physicist to figure out that the Browns are uptrending. Cleveland bombed-out twice the first three times they played outstanding opponents, namely Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The Ravens and Steelers both caught them in a corner of the playground, beat them up, and stole their lunch money. But they eked out a win versus the Steelers’ second string to close out the season despite missing several players due to Covid, then clobbered the first string last week. How can anyone fail to see the trend?

The first time, they lost by -31, the second time they won by 2, although both rosters were depleted; the Browns by Covid, the Steelers by choice. The third time, however, the Browns snuffed out Steelers’ playoff hopes by 11. That is a 42 point swing from the beginning of the season. Normally 42 points are enough to get the oddsmakers’ attention but not this time. The Browns still appear to be a below-average team, as the expected victory margin for the Chiefs actually a few points higher than their season average (10 points versus about seven).

Similarly, the Browns were annihilated by the Baltimore Ravens in the season opener, 38-6 getting crushed by -32 points. Time to fire the coach and tank for Trevor, right? No. The next time they played, it was one of the greatest games in the past 20 years, though unfortunately, the Browns came out on the short end of a 47-42 Baltimore victory. As it was, Mayfield threw for 343 yards and the two teams really appeared to be evenly matched. They didn’t beat Baltimore, but it was a 27 point swing from game one to the rematch. Why does that not resemble a trend?

Now let’s dig into the rosters a little bit. Maybe the recent health situation can help overcome those troubling 42 and 27 point swings.